No cutting corners

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Paul Nolan, national projects manager from cable management specialist, Unitrunk, discusses the need to maintain the integrity of the cable management specification while maximising other opportunities to reduce installed costs.

Value engineering has become embedded in construction industry processes as a vital step in ensuring that a project meets quality and buildability requirements, while identifying any opportunities for cost savings and design improvements. 

It’s an approach that has been instrumental in helping the electrical sector to move away from a copy-and-paste specification methodology, towards a more bespoke consideration of the individual design and performance criteria for the specific project. When done well, and early enough in the project cycle, value engineering can deliver significant cost savings for both materials and labour, along with design improvements that have the potential to overcome space restrictions, service route clashes and technical complexities.

The key point here, however, is that value engineering needs to be carried out at an early stage of design development, ideally with the assistance of experts from the supply chain that can provide workable solutions. As a cable management specialist, it’s an area where we often work with customers, across both our Unitrunk business and at our Vantrunk business, which specialises in engineered cable management solutions for extreme environments. 

Collaborative benefits

One of the major benefits of working with a trusted specialist in cable management is that the project specification and delivery team can tap into the supplier’s expertise to examine the brief, consider the site-specific challenges of the project and ensure that the finished specification meets the needs of the electrical installation, the building and the end-user. Our aim is to engage with installation teams to understand the project requirements so that we can help them look for ways in which they can reduce the amount of materials they require and/or drive down installation costs by modifying the design for cable management networks. 

While cable management is often viewed as a commodity item, it is an essential infrastructure for any electrical installation and, therefore, usually represents significant material costs and site time. A collaborative approach to value engineering can often reduce labour and material costs while aligning the installation more closely to the actual needs of the building.

Unitrunk only sells products through the wholesale channel, but we work direct with contractors to advise on the most appropriate products for their project. By advising the contractor, our team not only supports improved product purchasing decisions and explores opportunities for design improvements, but often also identifies any areas of waste due to over-specification. Ensuring that contractors do not buy more cable management than they really need on-site is a simple way that suppliers can help contractors to make savings and add value to the project.

Identifying savings

While it may not always be possible to reduce the cost of the materials used, early engagement with the system supplier can deliver other routes to a more cost-effective installation.

Foremost amongst these is speed of installation. The price of materials only accounts for a relatively small proportion of the installation cost and the ratio of costs accounted for by skilled labour often grows as the scale and complexity of the project increases. As a result, cable management systems that offer faster and easier installation can have a dramatic influence on the installed cost of the project by reducing the number of skilled installers required on site and increasing the amount of work they can carry out within the course of a working week. For example, Unitrunk’s RIS (Rapid Installation Systems) EasyConnect cable basket and UniKlip cable tray systems have been proven to reduce installation times by as much as 50%, slashing costs and reducing the risk of exceeding programme deadlines.

On many projects, it is possible to save both time and material costs by removing unnecessary elements from the specification. This may include reducing the size of the cable management by engineering out redundant capacity specified as ‘futureproofing’, or it could involve a simple modification to install a divider rather than two separate runs of cable management, thereby reducing both material and installation costs. The use of reduced widths of cable tray often means that support intervals can be extended too, which again, provides both installation cost savings and a reduction in the materials required.